You've probably seen Dave and Mike Radparvar's manifesto (above). Maybe you spotted it in a friend's office, posted at a yoga studio, in the offices of a scrappy start-up or at one of the big tech companies: it's reportedly served as inspiration at Google. It's the kind of viral hit you may have shared on Pinterest or Instagram. Millions of people have seen it. Some have even acted on its inspiring words, quitting jobs and starting new projects.
The manifesto wasn't intended or designed for any of that. It began as simply the guiding ideas behind the Radparvar's company, Holstee, which they launched in the summer of 2009 after quitting their corporate jobs. The brothers, along with their friend Fabian Pfortmüller, wanted to start a business that gave back and incorporated their social and environmental values. They sold high-quality accessories as well as organic cotton and recycled T-shirts (and a dress, which I reviewed here on MNN back in 2011 and still wear today).
To be sure, they were clear about what they were doing with their new company when they wrote the manifesto and published it on their site. "We wrote it at a moment when our thinking was crystal clear, when we were building something that was important and put in place. We wanted to define what success meant for us," says Dave Radparvar. You can learn more abut the manifesto in the video below.
From there, the manifesto took on a life of its own. So they came up with a classy graphic design for the words and began printing art-quality versions of the Holstee words.
Why was the statement such a huge hit?
The Washington Post summed it up well: "Scott Rick, a professor of marketing at University of Michigan, likens the manifesto to the 'Just Do It' slogan popularized by Nike. The difference, Rick said, is that Holstee explained what the 'it' is."
For many small businesses, this would be the end of the story — a viral hit shared by millions. A positive impact. Tons of sales. But for the Holstee team, it was just the beginning. After putting down in such powerful prose what they wanted, the Radparvars became deeply interested in the more complicated "how" question — how to live this life that so many were drawn to.
"A lot of questions came up," said Mike Radparvar. "As we dug into what the manifesto meant, we had people come and ask us questions that we were unprepared for. Should I start this business? Should I get married? We didn't know, but that led us to look for the 'how' of living a meaningful life."
They turned to brilliant minds of the past who also have tackled the problem. From Nietzsche to Stoic philosophies, from Buddha to poets like Rumi, there was solid commentary on how to find meaning in life and work. But the Radparvar brothers also wanted to look forward, so they looked into the science of happiness, to find where it mingled with what philosophers and spiritual leaders had written and taught.
Once they had some of the information, it started sorting itself into various themes — 12 in all, once for each month of the year. They thought this would be a great bonus for a Kickstarter they were running. And then they realized that this bonus idea might be something people need more than T-shirts. Turns out they were right.
Today, the Holstee subscription is a once-monthly mailing on a theme that's all about personal improvement, gleaned from all that research the brothers put in. (It's regularly updated to include new ideas and science.) Physically, that means subscribers receive a beautiful letterpress printed piece of original art — each month a different artist translates the idea into a visual — as well as a separate, multipage guide that walks you through thinking about the given subject, like kinship and connection, or spring cleaning. It comes with a unique origami envelope so you can share the art with another person easily.
"In originally identifying the 12 themes, there's was a nugget of realization," says Dave Radparvar. "Our themes are about focusing on what's important rather than what's urgent. That's a key takeaway. Urgent is how many likes I got on that post or the emergency alerts on our phones. Those things don't offer sustained happiness." Knowing what's important does. And this isn't just what they think. Psychologists are realizing that sustained human happiness is about intrinsic values (those that fulfill you) rather than extrinsic values (like wealth, good looks or fame). Many of us never take time to figure out what's important to us. That's the point of the Holstee subscription.
The initial reaction that they get from people when they explain the membership and how it works is: "I've never heard of anything quite like that." So the brothers know there's something pioneering that they're doing. They admit this kind of subscription membership is a bit different than the box that comes packed with beauty products or hair accessories. It takes a little education for people to see the value in it.
"It's similar to music lessons or the gym. You get out of it what you put into it — the real step comes from making time for self-reflection," says Dave Radparvar.
Having received the monthly subscription from Holstee for over six months now, I have to say that I was wary at first — but then I got into it. Since there's a new theme to each month, some of the mailings have felt more relevant or important to me, and I've eagerly filled out the guides, which have helped me think through areas of my life that I find challenging. And for those that feel less relevant? Well, I still get to enjoy the beautiful letterpress artwork or pass it along to a friend who might find it more useful than I do at that moment.
As Mike Radparvar explains, "We are a vitamin, rather than a painkiller. We are not solving someone's intense pain point, we are helping them become a bit better. We're a little bit like a life coach in a box."
The company's subscriber base has doubled in the last year. And they've expanded their team to seven people, who work remotely all around the world. So, for all the skeptics out there, here's a sustainable success story from a viral hit. Some might call that a one-in-a-million business. For the Radparvars, it's their life's work.